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. Security Council edges closer toward adoption of Iran sanctions
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 29 (AFP) Feb 29, 2008
The Security Council edged closer toward adoption Friday of a third set of UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear defiance despite reservations from four non-aligned countries.

Envoys from the United States, Britain and France told reporters after consultations of the 15-member council Thursday that it had been agreed to pursue last-minute discussions on the text early Friday.

"Our intention is to vote on the resolution as soon as possible, probably on Saturday," Britain's UN Ambassador John Sawers said.

Adoption of the text, co-sponsored by Britain, France and Germany, is a foregone conclusion as it has already been agreed by the five veto-wielding members of the council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

And the sponsors say they have enough support among the 10 non-permanent members to ensure passage, which requires nine votes and no veto.

But Sawers said the co-sponsors were prepared "to go the extra mile ... to get as much support as possible" for the draft which renews the council's long-standing demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment over fears it could give it the capability to build nuclear weapons.

The Islamic republic insists its nuclear program is peaceful and geared only toward generating electricity.

Indonesia, Libya, South Africa and Vietnam -- four nonaligned nations that are non-permanent council members -- have voiced reservations about the need for a third set of sanctions since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported progress in Iran's efforts to come clean on its past nuclear activities.

A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Vietnam on Thursday proposed some amendments to the draft that would reinforce the role of the IAEA in the Iranian nuclear dossier and would make clear that the proposed sanctions would not affect bilateral ties with Tehran.

He also said that South Africa promised to give its response to the sponsors Friday morning following Thursday's talks between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his South African counterpart Thabo Mbeki in Cape Town.

Sarkozy urged Mbeki to back the sanctions draft, saying the proposed steps were not aggressive "but it is necessary to do something to avoid the worst."

But South Africa's envoy to the IAEA Abdul Minty warned against any action "which can create the risk that Iran reduces or even terminates its cooperation with the IAEA."

He told reporters in Pretoria by telephone conference from Oslo that the latest report by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, showed "increasing confidence that Iran does not intend to use its nuclear program for military purposes," Minty told reporters in Pretoria by telephone conference from Oslo.

Indonesia's UN Ambassador Marty Natalegawa took an even tougher line against sanctions, hinting that his country might abstain during the vote. Libya might do the same, some diplomats said.

"We have yet to be convinced that more sanctions is the most reasonable way to go at this time," Natalegawa told reporters.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, whose country maintains close economic and energy ties with Tehran, however said the council was obliged to slap the sanctions because of Iran's defiance.

China said Thursday that the new UN sanctions against Iran should not undermine trade, as a Chinese firm was reportedly preparing to sign a 16-billion-dollar energy deal with Tehran.

The council draft includes an outright travel ban by officials involved in Tehran's nuclear and missile programs and inspections of shipments to and from Iran if there are suspicions of prohibited goods.

It also calls "upon states to exercise vigilance in entering into new commitments for public-provided financial support for trade with Iran, including the granting of export credits, guarantees or insurance to their nationals involved in such trade."

Attached to the draft is an annex listing additional names of Iranian officials and entities subject to travel and financial sanctions.

But Iran remains defiant, with its foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki criticizing in a letter to UN boss Ban Ki-moon what he described as "baseless accusations" by UN Security Council members about the Iranian nuclear drive.

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